Now Reading
STEAMFEST Huntsville: The Origin Story

GET OUR WEEKLY
NEWSLETTER

Subscribe →

 

STEAMFEST Huntsville: The Origin Story

When I was a kid I loved building things. I’d create Lego castles that morphed into vast cities constructed out of whatever I could find around our house. When kitchen materials went missing, my mom knew they were up in my room, propping, blocking, or playing some integral role in the expansive empires I loved building.

For most of the parents reading this, it will come as no surprise that kids learn vast amounts through playing.

A day of playful science will be taking place on April 18th from Noon to 4 PM as part of Huntsville’s second annual STEAMFEST. 

Then I started going to school, and my time was increasingly spent with my face stuck inside of a textbook. At a young age I retreated from “school science” which consisted of memorizing terms for tests and “school math” which lived on stark white pages, disconnected from the world. Even problems completed in class, odd problems completed at home. “These are all odd problems” I used to joke to myself.

Construction ceased, traded in for “rigorous” but often meaningless homework. More so as I grew older.

Don’t get me wrong, I did fine in school and continue to be able to jump through hoops on demand, but I didn’t love most of the school day. I couldn’t see a point to most of what was presented to me, couldn’t see how science and math were actual living, breathing parts of my life. It wouldn’t be until I was working on my Ph.D., struggling through statistics, that I finally came to love math. It was when a friend taught me how to play poker and suddenly probability and odds made a great deal of sense.


Advertisement. Content Continues Below.

That experience marked the beginning of my studies in the “gamification” of learning. For most of the parents reading this blog, it will come as no surprise that kids learn vast amounts through playing. Playing requires creativity, analysis, synthesis, divergent thinking, impulse control, metacognition…well…play draws on just about every higher order thinking skill out there.

Scenes from last year's inaugural STEAMFEST at Lowe Mill.
Scenes from last year’s inaugural STEAMFEST at Lowe Mill.

Stop for a minute and wonder with me why play is absent from most traditional classrooms. There simply aren’t enough teachers encouraging children to play with ideas, to create solutions to real problems, to take math and science and use them for making a dent in the universe.

I’m not blaming the teachers, although it may be true that few of them have been taught how to incorporate play into their teaching. I could talk about the politics behind current classroom control, but that conversation is simply too dirty to have on a child-friendly blog.

Fortunately, there are some visionary people in Huntsville City Schools, and in grades 6-8, some really cool things have been going on in scores of math classes across the city. Teachers and students are playing with math. Not all, of course, but many. In fact this year over 600 Eighth Graders are making Pinewood Derby race cars, using principles of mathematics in the design, production, and ultimately the racing.

Unlike traditional Pinewood Derby races, the final track is just a little bit taller, a little bit faster, and a little bit more playful. Imagineered by 2B Design Studios, the track will emerge from the 3rd story of Lowe Mill, dropping at a 45-degree angle before leveling out and finishing in front of a booth marked INTUITIVE.

steam-fest-small

All of this will be taking place on April 18th from Noon to 4 PM as part of Huntsville’s second annual STEAMFEST.

A partnership between Huntsville City Schools and Lowe Mill, STEAMFEST is an event showcasing the application of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) while at the same time reminding us all that art plays an integral role in the application. Leonardo da Vinci…artist or engineer?

See Also
back to school tax free weekend
Back to School Tax Free Weekend in Huntsville

Last year’s event featured a “paintball robot” and Oobleck, a fluid that turns into a solid when you apply enough pressure. We had children literally walking… running… on water. I am actually not ever supposed to mention Oobleck again because it turned into one of the messiest displays ever put on at Lowe Mill.


Advertisement. Content Continues Below.

STEAMFEST Oobleck

What can I say? It was performance science.

While the 3-storey racetrack will no doubt be a highlight this year, we have other tricks up our sleeves including lasers, drones, wind tunnels, and at least one jet engine in a suitcase. I could go on, but the surprise is part of the fun.

I hope you will join us outside on that sunny day to celebrate the hard play of these young mathematicians. Last year we had about 4,000 people. This year we’re expecting quite a few more.

STEAMFEST 2015 Details

Address: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment (map)
Date: Saturday, April 18 from Noon – 4:00 PM
Cost: FREE; $2 to park, donations accepted
View Website | STEAMFEST info on Facebook

[themify_box style=”lavender rounded” ]Philip Kovacs thumbABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Philip Kovacs is an Associate Professor at UAH, the VP of Education at Appleton Learning, and Co-Founder of Vastly, Inc. He is the lead organizer for STEAMFEST and an advocate for learning above and beyond what is contained in textbooks and classrooms.
[/themify_box]

Advertisement

View Comments (4)
  • Dr. Kovacs,

    Thank you for your work on STEAMFEST. It is a fine program, and it is appreciated.

    You write:

    “Stop for a minute and wonder with me why play is absent from most traditional classrooms. There simply aren’t enough teachers encouraging children to play with ideas, to create solutions to real problems, to take math and science and use them for making a dent in the universe.

    I’m not blaming the teachers, although it may be true that few of them have been taught how to incorporate play into their teaching. I could talk about the politics behind current classroom control, but that conversation is simply too dirty to have on a child-friendly blog.

    Fortunately, there are some visionary people in Huntsville City Schools, and in grades 6-8, some really cool things have been going on in scores of math classes across the city.”

    Although I find it astonishing that you, as a professor of education, would be unaware of this, the overwhelming majority of our teachers here in Huntsville do indeed incorporate play in their classrooms to the best of their ability.

    They are often hamstrung in their efforts by a superintendent who walks into classrooms, even SPED classrooms, and criticizes teachers for singing with their students. They are further hamstrung by the superintendent who approves and requires the strict following of pacing guides that do not allow time for innovation and play. You may, of course, review the pacing guides on the Huntsville City Schools website if you are so inclined.

    You know, it really isn’t difficult to avoid “blaming teachers” as you claim you wish to do. All it takes is simply not blaming them as you have.

    Thank you again for your work on developing this program.

    Sincerely,
    Russell Winn

    • Russell, you did not address any teachers outside of Huntsville city. The third paragraph you quoted does say that Huntsville city is visionary and doing “really cool things.” The first two paragraphs are about teachers in general; it does not say Huntsville city. I’m sure you can find many teachers in this country that do not incorporate play.

      • Heather,

        As there are approximately 3.7 million teachers in the United States, I am certain that your claim that I could find teachers in the country who do not incorporate play into their classroom is likely true.

        I doubt that whatever that number is it would rise to the precise standard of “many,” however. I have worked with teachers from across the nation for 20 years, and I benefitted from teachers who incorporated play into their classrooms for most of the 25 years prior to that. I do not know of a single one who doesn’t incorporate play into his or her classroom at nearly every opportunity.

        But could there be some who don’t? Sure.

        Teachers who interact with students on a daily basis are fully aware that play is a crucial aspect of education. The people who are seemingly unaware of this are people who wish to control the educational process without having actually tried doing it themselves like our superintendent here in Huntsville. The only “play” that Dr. Wardynski encourages is “play” that has a corporate sponsor behind it. He does not encourage his teachers to address the needs of her or his classroom with individualized play.

        Dr. Kovacs, as an Associate Professor of Education, should be fully aware of this. He in fact claims that he is aware of the political issues, but he just doesn’t want to discuss them on Rocket City Mom. (It’s a shame that he hasn’t read more of the articles here on Rocket City Mom; he would find that the editors of this site have no issue discussing political decisions that impact the lives of children.)

        As I mentioned, Dr. Kovacs is aware of this but chooses instead to blame teachers. I find that troubling. That was my purpose in writing.

        You are also correct that I have only mentioned Huntsville City Schools. I have done that for several reasons:

        1. STEAMFest is co-sponsored by HCS;
        2. Dr. Kovacs teaches in Huntsville and teaches many teachers who will themselves teach in HCS;
        3. The event is occurring in Huntsville;
        4. RocketCityMom targets the city of Huntsville for its readership. Huntsville is the “Rocket City” in the name of the site;
        5. I have two children in Huntsville City Schools, and I teach students who are primarily graduates of the HCS system.

        I hope that this is an adequate justification for my focusing on Huntsville City Schools.

        Thanks for writing,
        Russell

Scroll To Top